The Whole Teacher Enchilada

Twining, P., Raffaghelli, J., Albion, P., & Knezek, D. (2013). Moving education into the digital age: the contribution of teachers’ professional development. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 29(5), 426-437.

I chose that title today because I had no idea what I was getting myself into when it came to today’s article. Today’s title is a play on the more common phrase “the whole enchilada” meaning it’s the whole kit n kaboodle, everything, the kitchen sink, and the dish ran away with the spoon…you get the picture, right?
Well, the article I read pretty much summed up a lot of the major research surrounding teacher professional development (TPD) in general and as it pertained to the topic of Information and communication technology (ICT).

This journal article was particularly unique because it some respects it reminded me of a meta-analysis that combined large elements of information and distilled it down to some basic, general “truths”. And yet it also reminded me of a conference paper that appears a bit more loosey-goosey in its methodologies and formalities.

Let me explain. This article stemmed from a series of discussions at the 2011 EDUsummIT and from one particular group in general, the Technical Working Group on Teacher Professional Development (TWG3). This group consisted of twenty-one individuals from fourteen different nationalities and their discussion really centered on how could TPD ensure that teachers were prepared to use ICT to promote current skills and learning styles presently. As they began their conversation, they focused on what the current literature already stated about TPD in general and anything pertinent in regards to ICT.

Then the article delves deeper into the discussions as to what were the goals of the integration of ICT into TPD and what obstacles and layers of infrastructure must be considered when planning or working within this arena. Generally speaking, much the the goals centered around the idea that the effective and seamless use of ICT in the classroom would be a transformative element to the status quo.

The final portion of the article explores the topics that the group came to a consensus on, what discussion is to still be had and what conclusions this highly diverse group were able to agree upon. Some of the big conclusions were that most international, educational settings do not employ TPD best practices, the distance between practitioner and researcher must shrink and information must flow in both directions in that relationship, and that ICT must be modeled and expected of educators for it to truly have a transformative effect on education.

As I had stated previously, this article was similar to a conference paper in that it seemed less formal and more conversational in nature. As such, I think it was a very easy to read and follow textually. I also do believe that this one article, as I had mentioned before, is similar to a meta-analysis in that it covers a large, breadth of information and is able to distill it down to some very basic, compelling components. In doing so, this article has contributed much to the field of education and specifically to the branch of education dealing with teacher preparation and continued development. Any new district or site administrator could easily come to this article to see some highlighted best practices that are gleaned from strong, international research. And in having the references, you could specifically look further into what a particular author or article is saying about TPD and how they know they should say that.

I do think this article straddles the fence in a few places where parts of it are real strengths and contributions and the other is sure something could be improved upon. For example, the Literature Review wasn’t exactly a review. It did cover a breadth of established research but it didn’t really tease out all of the information for each of those articles. I also believe that the omission of some texts can be as intentional as the submission or use of other texts. To me personally, it didn’t seem like enough of a well-rounded picture was painted for this Literature Review for me to feel comfortable in saying it was comprehensive.

Springboarding off of that last thought, I arrive to a similar one in regards to Theoretical Frameworks. This article explored, very briefly, three frameworks and a bit as to how it generally applied to the present discussion of TWG3. But none of these frameworks were used extensively or explored thoroughly enough for me to really consider that a strength.

Finally, I would have to say that the “data collection” was completely absent. I understand that this article was not an empirical study but there was some ambiguity around some of the practices employed in creating it. For example, a few times the authors stated, “consensus in the discussion…” or even “ the group’s consensus….”. This term was not unpacked as to how a consensus was created and even who was or was not a part of the consensus and what the counter argument/point was to that dominant group. I believe some more clarification could have brought some more transparency to the article in general. There were also some value statements made about particular country’s educational systems or even proposed costs for TPD, that did not have any explanations or rationale tied to them. The findings were were interesting in that they were very broad and basic as to have to be applied internationally but I wonder in doing so, they lose their potency at the national or meso level.

As stated previously, I would recommend this article to others, like myself, who are researching into best practices in TPD because it is a great jumping off point. However, I do believe that in examining this issue at such a macro-international level some elements were overlooked. 1) the assumed bias that technology should be integrated into classrooms, 2) that it is imperative that all schools consider increasing the use of technology regardless of student/teacher access to initial and continued funding for such projects, and 3) the inherent complications and struggles that teacher preparation programs and districts face in regards to demands on their time, finances and attention. I think an article that examined these issues concretely and also clarified some more of the value or statements or even means of coming to a consensus by building more transparency into it, would prove to be an even more effective and powerful article that would truly offer some strong contributions to the field.